Joe Ely once quit his faltering gig as a musician to work for a traveling circus. This unpredictable streak has been with Ely through most of his life and it still has a dominant influence on his work.
Each week of his current tour itinerary shows him booked as part of a different act: in a duo with accordionist Joel Guzman, as one-third of the Flatlanders, and in a songwriter's roundtable featuring Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt. Ely also participated in Los Super Seven's Heard It On the X, a recent album that celebrates the Texan outlaw phenomenon of border radio. At 58, he figures it's the most involved he's ever been in music.
"In the last, oh, five years I've had the best time of my musical life," Ely says. "The Flatlanders started getting new stuff together and then Los Super Seven fell in there. I love working on different projects like these because they're all unique and different. Making a record, going out, doing publicity and then the tour isn't really that exciting anymore. I used to do a tour and come home all beat up to lick my wounds. Now I look forward to going straight in after it's all done and start working on new projects."
Ely's solo work incorporates roadhouse rock and honky-tonk country, Tejano and American rhythm, and blues music into a powerful hybrid. Thus his career as a recording artist has seen him on labels big, small and in between. Currently he's talking with New West, the roots indie label that's home to the Flatlanders. The three-man band of Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock formed over 30 years ago in Lubbock, Texas, but has recently become his most pressing side engagement.
The Flatlanders' initial run saw their only album, 1973's Jimmie Dale and the Flatlanders, receive a scant 8-track-only release, and they only stayed together a short while after that. Since reuniting in 2001, the Flatlanders and New West have been keen to preserve anything dating back to the band's early days. This interest resulted in Live '72, an album converted from newly discovered reel-to-reel tape, which will be followed by another release featuring a show from 1974.
"I'd heard that early Flatlanders tapes existed but I didn't think much of it," Ely says. "The guy who owned this Austin dive bar called the One Knite, which is now Stubb's, was an amateur recording buff and he taped whoever played there. There's early appearances by Stevie Ray [Vaughn] and Marcia Ball, too. The Flatlanders tapes actually ended up being of pretty good quality considering their origins. I got my start at the Stubb's BBQ joint in Lubbock. When Stubb's moved to Austin, they picked out the spot that used to be the One Knite where the '72 and '74 shows were recorded. So these tapes are just part of the full circle you might say."
Ely's working on another project that fits the "full circle" criteria: a multi-volume series called Pearls From the Vault. The previously unreleased recordings will first be available through his website and later through a widely distributed release. Among them are rehearsal tracks, revamped originals and an album recorded shortly after an early-'80s stint in England where he collaborated with the Clash and Eurythmics.
Aside from all the recording and touring, Ely's almost completed a couple of yet-to-be-titled books. One is a sporadic collection of tour journals and the other is an ongoing work of fiction derived partly from his real-life adventures. Despite all this on his plate, Ely assures he'll be available to fill an appointed post should mystery novelist/songwriter Kinky Friedman win his 2006 bid for governor of Texas.
"I keep thinking he'll break down and tell everyone it's a joke," says Ely about Friedman's gubernatorial bid. "Billy Joe Shaver has agreed to be his spiritual adviser and I want to [spearhead the creation of] the Department of Speed Bump Removal. Texas has a history of colorful governors, actually, from Ann Richards to Lyndon Johnson to Bob Wills' manager who became governor while managing Bob and the Texas Playboys. Kinky's a smart cat. I can almost see him getting accidentally elected."
come on man you know you got a bromance. you probably still rock that OutKast…
Yes, 14 is the correct answer. I'll pass your info along to the group's manager,…
That was January of 2007, and they are 21 now, so I'm guessing 14?